Wednesday, December 18, 2013


Article Published in the Guardian 15th December 2013: “Free Schools: why the fight goes on” by Zoe Williams

In an unashamedly partisan article, attacking free schools in general, the writer has chosen to repeat unfounded allegations made in a brief BBC South West news report on the opening of the Steiner Academy Frome.

The writer quotes from a statement made by a local resident opposing the new Academy. The writer describes those remarks as “mild”. In the interest of making her more general point, she then goes on to make an explicit link between Rudolf Steiner (miss-spelt “Rudolph”) & Nazism. Apart from the anachronism (Steiner died in 1925, a point conceded by the speaker she quotes), this linkage hides the fact that the Waldorf School founded by Steiner was closed by the Nazis as being inimical to their aims, prohibition on the admission of pupils being introduced in 1936 ( Furthermore, the writer ignored information in the public domain from the Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship (, or similar organizations ( That these might be considered biased in favour of this form of education, is no defense when uncritical use is made of blogs & other sources in which there is extreme prejudice against everything Steiner Waldorf schools stand for. Andy Lewis, for example, is quoted without regard to the fact that he is an activist preparing a market for his book on the subject. Lewis has, by his own admission, never visited a Waldorf school. He, in turn, draws copiously from the writings of a minor USA-based academic & self-styled Anarchist historian, Peter Staudenmaier. Staudenmaier recently stated in a lecture, “I’m a person who makes copious use of insinuation and innuendo in polemical contexts. I’m a big fan of using those as a way of getting a point across.” He is also someone who has been found for the invention of references that suit his tendentious purpose.

The evidence of Steiner Waldorf schools in practice should quickly dispel any doubts that the schools represent anything other than a serious & thorough educational contribution to young people learning in an enlightened & humane environment. To the specific allegation that our international & multi-cultural schools are in some way informed by ideology of racial, or any other form of supremacy, an independent academic study conducted in Germany concluded the opposite. An empirical study by Christian Pfeiffer of Lower Saxony’s Criminological Research Institute (2007) concluded that 15-16 year old showed pupils in German Waldorf schools far less likely to respond with approval to stereotyping of any sort .

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Monday, November 25, 2013

Elmfield wins Independent Schools Award

Elmfield has won the 2013 Independent Schools Award for the headline category of Education Initiative of the Year. This reflects the focus on a fully-rounded education where exams are only one part of the picture.

The judges were particularly impressed with the upper school’s morning modules, main lessons and creative Waldorf curriculum. Jason Pond, on behalf of the staff, was presented with the award by the guest speaker, John McCarthy, at a packed award ceremony in Nottingham with over 250 delegates from schools across the UK. Earlier this year the school was also shortlisted for the 2013 Pearson Teaching Awards and the 2013 Times Educational Supplement Awards.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Milo’s heroes give him top tips

10:00am Tuesday 19th November 2013 in News A RINGWOOD teenager has won an international sailing event – and met Olympic legends. Milo Gill-Taylor, 13, a pupil at the Ringwood Waldorf School, won the Junior Gold Cup in Bermuda and got to meet his heroes Sir Ben Ainslie and Iain Percy.

The talented youngster qualified for the contest after winning the GBR Optimist Selection Trials and becoming British National Champion. What he didn’t know was that he would also be running coaching sessions for disadvantaged Bermudan sailors alongside the stellar sailors, and staying in the same family home as Sir Ben and Percy. Milo said: “When we arrived in Bermuda Ben Nicholls, whose house we were staying at, came to get us from the airport. As we came out of the airport he said there was someone else in the car – then Ben Ainslie stepped out. “I was stunned but he is a really, really nice guy – it was incredible.”

Spending so much time with Sir Ben - the most successful Olympic sailor in history with his haul of five consecutive medals - along with double Olympic champion Iain Percy, proved to be inspirational. Going into the last day Milo was ten points behind the Australian sailor Max Quirk, and looked an unlikely winner. But Milo came from behind to win the final honours. And the experienced sailors were on hand to give him some advice. “They had just done their semi-final of the Bermuda Gold Cup,” said Milo. “They told me what to expect, which side was favouring and what the wind was doing. When Ben Ainslie and Iain Percy tell you things like this you listen. Winning the event was amazing but staying in the same team house as Ben Ainslie and Iain Percy and their team was beyond anything I could have imagined.”

Milo is now setting his sights on the Winter Championships and events in Vigo, Palma, Palamos and Garda. Waldorf School administrator Nigel Revill said: “Everyone at the school is thrilled at Milo’s success. “He is such a talented student who does so well combining his school life with a very promising future in sailing.”

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Waldorf graduate gets a Nobel prize

Autobiography – Thomas C. Südhof When I was born in Göttingen in 1955, the aftermaths of the second world war were still reverberating. I was born into an anthroposophical family. My maternal grandparents had been early followers for Rudolf Steiner’s teaching, and worked for Waldorf schools when Hitler assumed power and banned the anthrophosophical movement. Waldorf schools were closed, and my grandfather was conscripted to work in a chemical munitions factory – it was a miracle he survived the war. My uncle was drafted into the army right out of school, and when I was born, he had just returned from the Soviet Union after 10 years as a prisoner of war. My parents were physicians, with my father pursuing a career in academic medicine, while my mother cared for our growing family. My father’s training led him to the United States during the time I was born; as a result, he learned of my arrival by telegram as he was learning biochemical methods in San Francisco, where in a twist of fate I now live. I spent my childhood in Göttingen and Hannover, and graduated from the Hannover Waldorf school in 1975. I had been interested in many different subjects as a student, any subject except sports. I did not know what to do with my life after school, except that I was determined not to serve in the military. More by default than by vocation, I thus decided to enter medical school, which kept all avenues open for a possible career in science or as a practitioner of something useful – being a physician – and allowed me to defer my military service. I studied first in Aachen, the beautiful former capital of Charles the Great, and then transferred to Göttingen, the former scientific center of the Weimar republic, in order to have better access to laboratory training since I became more and more interested in science. Soon after arriving in Göttingen, I decided to join the Dept. of Neurochemistry of Prof. Victor P. Whittaker at the Max-Planck-Institut für biophysikalische Chemie. I was attracted to this department because it focused on biochemical approaches to probe the function of the brain, following up on Whittaker’s discovery of synaptosomes in the two preceding decades, his development of methods to purify synaptic vesicles, and his increasing interest in the cell biology of synaptic vesicle exo- and endocytosis. As a lowly ‘Hiwi’ (‘Hilfswissenschaftler’ for ‘helping scientist’) in Whittaker’s department, I was assigned the task of examining the biophysical structure of chromaffin granules, which are large secretory vesicles of the adrenal medulla that store catecholamines and ATP. Although my project developed well, I started exploring other questions in parallel as I became more and more familiar with doing experiments, while simultaneously studying medicine at the university. I am infinitely grateful to Victor Whittaker for giving me complete freedom in his department in pursuing whatever I thought was interesting, and continued working in his department after my graduation from medical school and my internship in 1982, until I moved to the US in 1983. Among the studies I performed during my time in Whittaker’s department in Göttingen, the most significant is probably the isolation and characterization of a new family of calciumbinding proteins that we called ‘calelectrins’ because we had purified them from the electric organ of Torpedo marmorata. ‘Calelectrins’ were among the first identified members of an enigmatic and evolutionarily ancient family of calcium-binding proteins called annexins. Annexins were at the same time discovered in sevaral other laboratories, and I am proud of the fact that we contributed to the first description of this fascinating protein family, although to this date their function remains unknown. After I finished medical school, I thought that I wanted to be an academic physician, along the mold of my father who had died when I was in high school. Although my time in Whittaker’s laboratory had taught me to love doing science, I wanted to do something more practical and immediately useful. The standard career for an academic physician in Germany was to go abroad for a couple of years to acquire more clinically oriented scientific training before starting her/his clinical training. Upon surveying the scientific landscape, I decided to join the laboratory of Mike Brown and Joe Goldstein at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas for postdoctoral training. Brown and Goldstein were already famous for their brilliant cell-biological studies when I made this decision, and were equally renowned for using cutting-edge scientific tools to address a central question in medicine, namely how cholesterol in blood is regulated. While in their laboratory, I cloned the gene encoding the LDL receptor, which taught me molecular biology and opened up genetic analyses of this gene in human patients suffering from atherosclerosis. I also became interested in how expression of the LDL receptor is regulated by cholesterol, and identified a sequence element in the LDL receptor gene called ‘SRE’ for sterol-regulatory element that mediates the regulation of the LDL receptor expression by cholesterol. Discovery of the SRE later led to the identification of the SREbinding protein in Brown and Goldstein’s laboratory, which in turn identified new mechanisms of transcriptional regulation effected by intramembrane proteolysis. In 1986, I had the choice of resuming my clinical training, or trying to establish my own laboratory. Much of what I know about science I learned in my three years of postdoctoral training in Brown and Goldstein’s laboratory, and has guided me throughout my career. Probably the best advice Brown and Goldstein gave me, however, was now: they suggested I forego further clinical training and do only science, and they backed up this advice by providing me with the opportunity to start my own laboratory at Dallas. This I did, and I ended up staying in Dallas for another 22 years, interrupted only by a short guest appearance as a Max-Planck-Director in Göttingen (see below). When I started my laboratory at Dallas, I decided to attack a question that was raised by Whittaker’s work, but neglected: how do synaptic vesicles undergo exocytosis, i.e., what id the mechanism of neurotransmitter release which underlies all synaptic transmission? In 1986, Whittaker’s work had shown that synaptic vesicles could be biochemically purified, but nothing was known about the mechanisms of synaptic vesicle exocytosis in particular, and membrane fusion in general. Our approach, initially performed in close collaboration with Reinhard Jahn whose laboratory at that time had just been set up in Munich, was simple, namely to purify and clone every protein that might conceivably be involved, and worry about their functions later. This approach was more fruitful than I could have hoped for, and has arguably led to a fairly good understanding of membrane fusion and neurotransmitter release. In the 25 years since the start of my laboratory, our work, together with those of others, led to the identification of the key elements of the membrane fusion machinery, to the characterization of the functions of these proteins, to the mechanisms of regulating this machinery, and to the description of synapse-specific molecules that bestow the specific properties of neurotransmitter release onto synapses that render synapses so fast and precise, as required for brain function. Some of the proteins whose function we identified are now household names and have general roles in eukaryotic membrane fusion that go beyond a synaptic function, while other proteins are specific to synapses and account for the exquisite precision and plasticity of these elementary computational elements in brain. I feel fortunate to have stumbled onto this overarching neuroscience question at a time when it was ready to be addressed, and it has been tremendous fun to work our way through the various synaptic proteins and their properties that shape their functions. It is important to note, however, that the nature of our studies was not revolutionary. There was not a single major discovery that all at once changed the field, as usually happens for the development of tools (e.g., monoclonal antibodies, patch clamping, or shRNAs, to name a few). The closest our work came to a radical change in the field was probably the identification of synaptotagmins as calcium-sensors for fusion, and of Sec1/Munc18-like proteins (SM-proteins) as genuine membrane fusion proteins, but both hypotheses took more than a decade to become accepted by the field – in fact, the SM-protein hypothesis was only recently adopted by others, 15 years after we proposed it. Thus, our work in parallel with that of Reinhard Jahn, James Rothman, Jose Rizo, Randy Scheckman, Richard Scheller, Cesare Montecucco, Axel Brunger, and many others produced a steady incremental advance that resulted a better understanding of how membranes fuse, one step at a time. As a result of this combined effort, we now know that SNAREs are the fusion catalysts at the synapse, first shown by the discovery that SNAREs are the substrates of clostridial neurotoxins, that SM-proteins in general and Munc18-1 in particular are essential fusion proteins for all membrane fusion events, that a synaptotagmin-based mechanism assisted by complexin underlies nearly all regulation of exocytosis, and that synaptic exocytosis is organized in time and space by an active zone protein scaffold containing RIM and Munc13 proteins as central elements. Ten years after I started my laboratory, while the work described above was progressing, I was offered the opportunity to return to Germany and to organize a Department of Neuroscience at the Max-Planck-Institut für experimentelle Medizin in Göttingen, my home town. I enthusiastically took on the challenge, planned and oversaw the building of a new animal facility, hired scientists, and organized the renovations and equipment of a suite of laboratories. However, despite of strong local support, it soon became clear that the new leadership of the Max-Planck-Society, which had recently changed, developed doubts about my recruitment, and began rebuilding the institute that I was recruited into in directions that were quite different from what I had been told and what I had envisioned. In a personal discussion, Prof. Markl, then the president of the Max-Planck-Society, suggested I resign my position at the Max-Planck-Institut and look for a future in the US, which I did. I have never regretted my work for the Max-Planck-Institut in Göttingen, which laid the foundation for much of what happened there subsequently, including the recruitment of one of my postdoctoral fellows as a new director who has done a much better job than I could have done. However, I have also never regretted following the suggestion of the president of the Max-Planck-Society, and returning my attention and future to the US, where the breadth and tolerance of the system allowed me to operate in a manner that was more suitable for my somewhat iconoclastic temperament. Overall, my work as a director at the Max-Planck-Institut in Göttingen was a very positive experience that shaped my thinking when I subsequently had the opportunity to help build the Department of Neuroscience at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. Contributing to establishing a neuroscience department at Dallas was a lot of fun, and the free-flowing and unbureaurocratic environment of a state university was extremely supportive – it was a pleasure to hire young people, and see them develop! The currently final chapter in my career began when I moved my laboratory from UT Southwestern to Stanford University in 2008. After 10 years as a chair of a Neuroscience Center and then Department in Dallas, I felt that I wanted to devote more of my time to pure science, and to embark on a new professional direction, with an environment that was focused on academics. Moreover, I decided to redirect a large part of my efforts towards a major problem in neuroscience that appeared to be unexplored: how synapses are formed. Thus, in this currently last chapter of my life, I am probing the mechanisms that allow circuits to form in brain, and to form with often near magical properties dictated by the specific features of particular synapses at highly specified positions. I am fascinated by the complexity of this process, which far surpasses the numerical size of the genome, and interested in how disturbances in this process contribute to neuropsychiatric diseases such as autism and schizophrenia. This is what I would like to address in the next few years, hoping to gain at least some interesting insights. Throughout my career as an independent scientist, I have been generously supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the National Institute of Mental Health. I am grateful to both for their unflinching support. I have received several recognitions, all of them unexpected, among which I particularly cherish the Alden Spencer Award from Columbia University in 1993, the von Euler Lectureship from the Karolinska Institutet in 2004, and – of course - the Kavli Award in 2010. I am not sure I deserve any of these awards, as conceptual advances in science always represent incremental progress to which many minds contributed. The conceptual advances we made were no different in this regard, they do not constitute a single discovery of a particularly revolutionary method or phenomenon but a continuous postulation and testing of hypotheses. Moreover, our discoveries on how membranes fuse and how calcium regulates fusion would have been impossible without the coincidental findings by others, to whom I am grateful for their contributions. Finally, I feel indebted beyond words to my family, without which I would be barren and rudderless, and which has been more considerate of me than I deserve.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Tilda Swinton speaks on Steiner Education

Tilda Swinton supportive of private Steiner schools Updated on thePublished 01/10/2013 10:38 TILDA Swinton today defended parents’ rights to opt out of state education in favour of the Steiner Waldorf education system which her own twin kids attend. The Oscar-winning star, who lives in Nairn, said an Oxford professor had told her that state education was so under question the top university “longed” for Steiner pupils who still have a love for learning. Swinton, 52, spoke out as she mixed with teachers, pupils and visitors at an open day for the Moray Steiner School and the recently-opened Drumduan Upper School in Forres, Moray. Ms Swinton, 52, is a trustee of both schools and a co-founder of Drumduan. Xavier and Honor, her 15-year-old children with artist John Byrne, are pupils at Drumduan. The London-born actress said promoting the schools, which take a holistic approach to education, is her only current project, adding that there was “a misunderstanding” about Steiner education as people think it’s ‘flaky’ or ‘woolly’. Ms Swinton, who won an Oscar for best supporting actress in 2008 for her performance as a ruthless corporate attorney in the legal thriller ‘Michael Clayton’, said: “When I went into the Steiner school for the first time, I was struck not only by the trusting and familial atmosphere for younger children, but mainly by older children, because I had never walked into a school before where teenagers had been so welcoming and self-possessed and kind. “The older children play with and care for the younger children. “There is, very often, a misunderstanding about Steiner education, because of the emphasis on the arts, and the children seem so carefree. “A misunderstanding that the education might be ‘woolly’ or ‘flaky. “As my children go through education, I am continually more impressed by how rigorous and engaged all the learning is.” She added: “I heard of a student who got a double first in physics from Edinburgh University, who said that all he was ever interested in was science and if he had an education other than Steiner then he would have been another ‘geek’ - unable to do anything other than his subject. “But through the Steiner system he had to learn other crafts. The Steiner had nurtured him to become a fully functional person. “The new upper school, which has only recently started here, has a 100 per cent success rate in placing students at universities, including Oxford and Cambridge. “A don at Oxford, who sits on the interview board for applicants, said that state education is so under question that they long for Steiner pupils who still have that love for learning. “Until Steiner education is taken on board by the government, it remains a private education.” Ms Swinton cut short promotion of her 2011 Oscar bid ‘We Need to talk about Kevin’ to do a cleaning shift at the Moray Steiner School. The mum-of-two jetted back from Spain to scrub floors and wash windows at the Forres school. Taking her role at the school very seriously, she said at the time: “There is a regular rota. “In order to keep the fees down it’s necessary for parents to take part in cleaning the school on a regular basis.” Steiner schools are based on the philosophy of Austrian philosopher Rudolph Steiner who founded the first in Germany in 1919. There are now 1026 independent Steiner schools across 60 countries. The schools concentrate on educating the “whole child” with a strong emphasis on creativity. The educational philosophy’s overarching goal is to develop free, morally responsible, and integrated individuals equipped with a high degree of social competence.